Sangakkara is ready to put on the pressure
Buoyed by three convincing wins on the trot, including an eight-wicket drubbing of today's opponents in the Tri-Nation Tournament final, India will take the field against Sri Lanka, confident of bagging their first silverware of the year. Form is on the Indian team's side after two six-wicket wins against hosts Bangladesh and the eight-wicket walloping of their neighbours from across the Palk Strait on Sunday.
As an added incentive, winning the title will also help India narrow the gap on Australia, who lead the ICC one-day rankings with 123 points. Going into the tournament, India were seven points behind and they will keen to displace Australia to hold both the ODI and Test top spots; they are alreadytop the latter. The toss, however, could be a crucial factor at the Shere Bangla National Stadium as all six matches of the tournament have been won by the team batting second. Surprises, though, can never be ruled out in a game pitching cricket's two most familiar foes. The final will be the 121st ODI played between India and Sri Lanka, and it will set a new record for matches played between two nations, eclipsing the mark of 120 between Australia and the West Indies. Fourteen of those matches have been played since the start of 2009, with India holding a 9-4 record with one game abandoned.
Sri Lanka have not won a contest against India in nearly two years, losing two bilateral series and the final of a tournament at home in September. Determination, therefore, will not be in short supply when Kumar Sangakkara leads his team out today for the clash in Mirpur. The Sri Lanka captain, who opted to bat first after winning the toss in the last game against India and lost by eight wickets, will be hoping for another spin in his favour. This time he will not make the same choice and instead back the destructive opening pair of Upul Tharanga and Tillakaratne Dilshan to launch their chase under the lights.
"It was a bad performance by us on Sunday [against India] with the bat and ball and even fielding," said Sangakkara. "We have forgotten that and it will be a fresh start. We have been preparing for the final as best as possible and we want to win." The Indian bowlers have been patchy in Bangladesh until now and, as captain MS Dhoni said earlier in the tournament, they will have lift their performance by more than a double to deny the Lankans.
"We have been putting pressure on their bowling for the last two or three months or even more than that, and we would be looking to do that again," added Sangakkara. "At the same time we don't underestimate any side or any player. We will play to our strength to win the game." Talking about his own bowling attack, Sangakkara singled out Suraj Randiv for special mention. In the absence of Muttiah Muralitharan, the young off-spinner has done an impressive job in the middle overs for the team. "Without a doubt, Randiv has been pushing for a permanent place in the one-day side," he said. There have been few concerns for Dhoni on the batting front thus far. Most batsmen have been making their expected contributions, but the young Virat Kohli has been sensational. He has scored 50-plus in five of his last six innings, scripting two centuries alongside scores of 91 and 71. He is the leading scorer of the tournament with 273 from four innings.
The only concern for India, if you could call it that, is the absence of Virender Sehwag from the last two games and training sessions over the past few days. According to the team's administrative manager Arshad Ayub, the swashbuckling opener is "fine" and has no injuries, and "hopefully, he'll be there for the final". These positive claims, of course, will not go down well with the Lankans. With Kohli in such great touch, they could do without bowling to one of cricket's most destructive batsmen. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org
Published: January 13, 2010 04:00 AM